Don’t Ever Leave the Airport

While my trip to New Mexico was thoroughly enjoyable — you can now see my pictures posted to Flickr — I’ve just about had it with traveling.

Thanks to a combination of inclement weather and corporate incompetence, my return trip from Albuquerque, NM to New York City took a total of twenty-four hours. My original and re-scheduled flights were delayed, canceled or, through airline mismanagement, never properly booked no less than six times, causing me to spend virtually all day yesterday sitting on my rear at airport gates. It felt like a miracle when I limped home at 1:00a on Tuesday morning after first setting out for the airport late on Sunday evening.

For me, there are two take-aways from this misadventure: first, I’ll never again violate my personal rule of avoiding layover itineraries when traveling across the continental United States, especially if I’m flying into or from relatively small market destinations like Albuquerque. It’s just too risky; when a scheduled flight is canceled or delayed, the paucity of flight alternatives can be disastrous. Direct is the only way to go.

Second, I’ll never again fly the airline I flew to and from Albuquerque — whose name, in the interest of discretion, I won’t reveal here. That’s right, I’m not saying who it was that squandered an entire day of my life. Not even if you call me names, put a curse on my subway line, or even if you acronym-ize the title of this blog post.

  1. Let’s face it, pretty much all American airlines suck (although I’d say that the one you flew on is one of the worst). I live in Seattle, so I may be a bit biased, but I’ve found that Alaska Airlines is generally pretty good. If only we had high-speed rail here…

  2. I flew far too much for my taste in the past 16 months, and I have now started to refer to air travel as “the worst shitty experience we pay lots of money for.”

    It’s absolutely ASTOUNDING to me that we still tolerate it.

  3. Yeah, Don’t Ever Leave The Airport has screwed me over a couple of times…and the TVs on their aircraft are so old that watching anything is unbearable. (sad for an international flight)

  4. well, i am so very grateful you and elaine got back ok and we’ve been fretting with you during your 24 hour ordeal – what a total drag. your flickr images are great! you are indeed quite the photographer. you should know that i accidentally deleted all the khoi-driving-experience pics from my camera phone, so there won’t be any evidence for the world to see of your C+ parking job downtown. (khoi parks ON THE LINE, btw) oh well. “Don’t Ever Leave The Airport” — brilliant. bonnie’s gonna bust trying to keep from saying, “i told you so!” be well..

  5. I saw an article recently that argued that while US airlines have a terrible per flight track record of lateness, ripple effects exactly like yours make their per passenger lateness something like an average of several hours late. Behind the official numbers lie some atrocious realities. Good lord, even Amtrak is better!

  6. Shitty.

    Ok, only two things to add:

    1. ABSOLUTELY yes on the direct flights. My policy for the past 10 years is that I will almost always pay TWICE as much for a direct flight if I need to. It’s the single most important variable to a flight. If it’s possible to fly direct and it’s not 5x to do so (i.e. it’s not Continental Airlines), DO IT. Do it regardless of the airline. Most accidents occur on takeoff and landing as well, so just think of it as a safety tax.

    2. With regard to any statement made by any person to the effect of “I will never fly ____ airline again” — my experience is that there is a story like this for every single airline in the world. Even my favorite airline, JetBlue, I’m sure has many people who would “never fly” with it again based on one bad experience. Don’t fall victim to this urge, no matter how bad the experience. If bad experiencing with a certain airline happen two or three times, then ok… but one bad experience (no matter how bad) does not a pattern make. If that same airline offers you a direct flight in a year vs. another airline who offers you a connecting flight, take the direct.

  7. Sadly I can sympathize. And having worked for one of Don’t Ever Leave the Airport’s competitors, it amazes me that they keep those planes in the air at all. It’s a shame that these crappy companies have for decades blocked the expansion of fast rail across America.

  8. Brilliant.

    Yes, I think everyone has that horror story at some point in their lives. I did a multi-stop flight once, NY to CA, same airline as well. I had planned a week long trip – and it took 14 hrs EACH WAY, in what was supposed to take 7 hrs per trip to cross the country (including the 1hr layover… PLENTY of time to walk across the airport right? Assuming the other plane… gets there?). On top of that, the famed airline lost my luggage for 4 days… of the 7 I was actually at my destination… awesome.

    Needless to say Khoi, like you, I swore off multi-stop flights as much as I could afford on my budget, and now try to fly JetBlue or first class only – except I can never afford first class 😉 I think everyone has a favorite depending on personal experience, but I definitely think the direct flight is the best way to minimize failure and misery… that and having either window or aisle seats!

    … and a solid iPod with good tunes… and water… and snacks… maybe a pillow… and some magical coma pill…

  9. Next time, go by train.

    No, I’m not joking; air travel is one of the biggest contributors to global greenhouse glasses, and per-head has the worst carbon footprint for each individual traveler. Worse yet, it is becoming cheaper (certainly in Europe, at least) and so appeals to a far wider market.

    If you’re going to resign yourself to an overnight stop, why not travel by an alternative method such as a train?

  10. So sorry to hear the details of your corporately mismanaged travel experience. Truly, I do not understand how that airline remains in business, as another reader mentioned. I wish your travels home would have been more gracious and expeditious, given that we hope you will come back and visit again some time. Waylon and Annie loved having you here (as did we), even if they were slightly confused by that long black metal nose you kept pointing at their faces.

  11. That reminds me how much I hate them too.
    I was supposed to go to a wedding in Dallas years ago flying from Austin. I booked my flight and was supposed to leave at 5PM on a Friday. I got to the airport at 3:30 and got my boarding pass. Then 30 minutes before the flight was to leave, they announced that the flight was cancelled. It was a business flight! I told them that I needed to get on another flight. The airline wouldn’t assist. I had to go from ticket counter to ticket counter only to be told the next flight I could get on would be through Continental at 11:50 that night. I said that wasn’t a possibility because I had to be part of the rehearsal at 7PM that night. I ended up not going to the wedding and it took them 8 months to refund my money for the flight they cancelled on me. The only reason I got my money was I filed a formal complaint with the BBB on them.

  12. I had a remarkably similar experience coming home to Toronto from SXSW this year. In my case, 3 flights in a row were canceled due to mechanical problems with the Death Eventually Lands The Airplanes airline. If cut backs and competition means this airline can’t keep their planes in flying condition, I think it’s wise to avoid them altogether.

  13. @Robb Irrgang (First comment):

    I think it would be more accurate to refer to “Not Worth Attempting”. At least, those are the initials bandied about in the Twin Cities, where you’ve got about a 10% chance of getting anything else.

  14. I just got back from a trip involving a layover and it was a headache coming and going. On the other hand, the leg with Horizon Air each way was so nice (as compared to Never Worse) that i’d seriously contemplate planning a cross-country trip by stringing together connecting flights on small regional carriers.

    I also recently took a short train trip, and i really wish that Amtrak would be a viable option to more destinations. It’s a vastly better way to travel.

  15. This may have had something to do with the fact that you were flying near the end of the month. Unions specify a maximum number of hours pilots can be in the air and so airlines that have personnel issues run out of pilots at the end of the month.

  16. Yes, thank you for that discretion, not naming the airline. Unrestrained consumer choice based on shared information is apparently what’s wrong with capitalism.

  17. I’ve had some crap experiences, but nothing THAT bad… There is one airline I’ve NEVER had problems with and flown with them dozens of times — and that’s Southwest. Now, the baggage handlers at BWI are a whole different story — big lot of idiots, there.

  18. Absolutely agreed on the direct flights thing with Mike D. So many times when I’ve had one or more connecting flights, the first flight comes in late and forces me to miss the others. I got stuck at PDX for a full day once because of this.

    Also Amtrak is not any better, in my personal experiences. Particularly when it comes to delays and connections. Also they seem so technologically behind that their stations aren’t even kept up to date on incoming trains statuses. I waited 3 hours in a station where the employees could only shrug and tell us “Well, as far as we know it’s on time.”

    I’m thoroughly convinced the best way to travel is to drive if it’s a reasonable distance.

  19. It’s an epidemic. You probably you saw this:

    Ugly Airline Math: Planes Late, Fliers Even Later – New York Times.

    Statistics track how late airplanes are, not how late passengers are. The longest delays — those resulting from missed connections and canceled flights — involve sitting around for hours or even days in airports and hotels and do not officially get counted.

    Two things help:

    1. always fly direct
    2. always leave a day earlier than you think you need to (if you can)

    I really enjoy Amtrak travel between American cities. And I’m excited to read about the high-speed train network extensions they’re building between European cities.

  20. Unfortunately there is no escape from the incompetence, mismanagement and general mayhem that is airline travel. I have had major delays and days of my life sucked away by virtually every major US airline. There is no escape.

    It’s Delta this week, American Airlines next week and even Southwest the next (though they are significantly less sucky and more human).

    The moral is: become rich enough to charter your own personal jet, then you don’t have to worry about this crap.

  21. Heard an interview on teevee with Richard Branson, who is launching Virgin America soon.

    Question: Why on earth do you want to start a new airline in the US?

    Branson: Have you ever flown with a US-based carrier?

    Sums it up nicely, good luck Richard, we need your help!

  22. I had a 2-hour delay on a direct from Chicago to Philly Monday night, flying Southwest. During the pre-flight announcement about no smoking, the attendant noted that it’s a $2,000 fine if you get nailed lighting up in-flight. “And we know you don’t have $2,000, otherwise you would have flown Delta and been on time,” he concluded, to cabin laughter. We ended up only about an hour and a half late getting into PHL.

  23. My last airline experience, I was delayed 6 hours because the aircraft had arrived, but the crew hadn’t. That’s right. The crew that landed the aircraft was off to another flight. The crew that was to fly the aircraft to my destination was stuck in Las Vegas. The plane and I were in Newark. Apparently the aircraft and the crews travel in separate but overlapping 4- or 5-stop cycles. I stared for 6 hours at the aircraft I was supposed to be on.

  24. You see when you go through that much trouble to NOT tell us, and even tell us things we could try and do to make you tell us, it makes us all THAT much more intrested.

    But I understand…

    I’m sure it felt THAT much better to finally be home, really I think you should of used your time more wisely like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” make a mural or something, or you could taken a bunch of photos highlighting a day in an airport….

  25. I had the exact same experience flying from Austin>NY on the airline whose name you won’t mention, which proves you’re a far better man that I. After twenty-four hours, four laptop-viewed movies, 25 dollars in meal tickets, too many awful airport starbucks espressos, and a few hours in a cheap Atlanta hotel room, I made sure to curse everything and everyone around and tell them never to fly DELTA. ever.

    oops. slipped. (yes, I’m still bitter. sorry to hear you had to share my same experience with it).

  26. I’ve been an airline employee since before deregulation. I don’t recall all these problems before they deregulated the system. As a lot of us feel in this business, you wanted a deregulated air system now you’ve got it. Deal with it.

  27. My first rule for airline flight is: try to avoid flying (for the environment, and to avoid any number of hassles).

    My second rule is: Don’t fly into or out of the United States (I’m Canadian and fly to Japan or Europe — the hassles aren’t worth it).

    My third rule is: Don’t check baggage (it will only get lost anyway).

    My fourth rule is: No direct flights. Instead, get long layovers in places you want to visit anyway.


  28. You should look on the internet or your Mail archives for Shit Shield – an absolutely hysterical note on the trial and tribulations one passenger had on a flight.

  29. Don’t forget Las Vegas as a potential red-eye hub. It has been a while, but I was stuck in Boston trying for Salt Lake and facing a $650 one way same day ticket. Hopping a plane to Las Vegas was easy, and home (very late) that night for $237. Sometimes going the wrong way is faster and lots cheaper.

  30. Khoi, anytime you need a list of airlines to avoid, I’ve got you covered. Traveling to SE Asia in June, I learned that a CheapTickets fare, while nicely priced, means you might fly with morons that can scarcely remember their own names, let alone yours. My wife’s and my baggage never left LAX – imagine our surprise when the lady in Guangzhou told us that in her attempt at English – and they NEVER informed us what happened to the baggage. It was found, but by a different airline in Bangkok. The airline in question is still trying to figure out where our bags are…

  31. The last flight I was on the pilot came out to the gate and told everyone to “get on the plane, we’re leaving now.” It was almost an hour before the scheduled departure time. Worked for me, since I was early, but the plane took off without 75% of its paid passengers. Was a pleasant experience to be on that side of the equation for a change.

  32. Bravo sir. Great post. I, along with my wife and six year old-bundle-of-energy son, also had some craziness on the retUrn home from vacatioN recently. I will also take the high road and noT divulgE the name of saiD company.

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